Sometimes I'm SO-DIMM!

After finishing my three part series on the new Intel Core Duo mini, I thought I’d bump the RAM on the mini up from its stock 512MB to 2GB. I want to re-do some of the tests that may have been RAM-limited to see how (or if) things improved with more RAM. Also being the adventurous sort, I thought I’d try the installation myself, which is exactly what I advise people not to do in the above article. What follows is a good example of exactly why I recommend that route, and not the do-it-yourself solution.

The first step was the RAM, of course. I wanted to find a pair of 1GB sticks, as Apple recommends adding RAM in pairs for maximum speed. If possible, I prefer to buy locally, so I checked to see who had two 1GB PC-5300/667MHz DIMM (dual inline memory module) chips that the new Intel mini requires. One of the local (non-Apple-owned) Mac stores had some in stock, but their cost was over double the online price! Now, I’m more than willing to pay a markup to support a local dealer. But a 100% markup on a $125 seemed quite excessive! So then I checked one of the generic “u-build-it” PC parts places—you know the type, they usually exist in industrial parks and operate out of what seems to be a glorified storage locker. Checking their inventory online, they also had the chips, and at much closer to the online price.

This particular supplier is about 10 miles via busy backroads from the house, so it’s not exactly a short hop. But since they had the RAM in stock, I made the drive. I told the clerk I needed two 1GB DIMMs of PC-5300 RAM, and he brought it out, showed it to me briefly, then tossed it in a bag. Not thinking about it twice, I drove back home, ready to dive into the project.

Before I started, I armed myself (well, my browser window on the G5) with Jason Snell’s article on opening up the Intel Mac mini, along with the iFixit RAM installation guide for the original mini. After collecting the requisite tools (putty knife, screwdriver, flashlight, and potentially a magnifying glass!), I got to work. First, to remove the cover. I had the putty knife, but I’d also read that it was likely you’d damage the case when using a knife to pry it open. In search of a potentially better solution, Google offered up this post on the macminihacks.org forums, describing a solution involving using wire to pull on the restraining tabs. After about 10 minutes of fishing with cable, I decided the original posters must have more patience and fishing skill than do I; I had yet to manage to snag a single clip. So it was back to the putty knife.

Wedging the knife in very carefully, I managed to snap the case off with only one minor gouge on the plastic surround. After the cover came off, the AirPort card popped loose easily, and then the four screws holding down the upper chassis were removed. (Note that if you plan to do this yourself, the front right hard drive screw is longer than the others.) No problems so far. To actually remove the upper chassis, you need to disconnect the IR port at the front of the mini. This was, for me, the hardest step. The connector is very small, very tightly coupled, and wedged in a very tricky-to-reach location. After some careful pulling at the base of the connector, it finally wiggled free. Very carefully, I flipped the upper chassis over, revealing the two RAM slots below.

The two 256MB chips installed in the slots came out easily enough. Then it was time to install my new RAM. For the first time since purchasing the memory chips, I took them out of the bag…and instantly realized that I had a “big” problem on my hands:

In the above image, in the foreground are the two 1GB PC-5300 DIMMs. They’re sitting on top of the object in the background, which is the mini itself. Now, I’m no physics major, but it seems to me that those RAM sticks are only going in that mini after a visit from Mr. Hammer and/or Mr. Hacksaw.

Those of you who have a clue, of course, know exactly what happened. When I bought the RAM, I forgot one very tiny yet very important detail. The mini (and iMac along with it) don’t use DIMMs, they use SO-DIMMs. Just two little letters and a hyphen, but a world of difference. According to Wikipedia’s definition, SO-DIMMs are:

… a smaller alternative to a DIMM, being roughly half the size of regular DIMMs. As a result SO-DIMMs are mainly utilised in laptops, small footprint PCs (such as those with a Mini-ITX motherboard) and high-end upgradable office printers.

Now I knew the mini and the iMac took SO-DIMMs. But somehow, in my rush to get this upgrade done, I didn’t bother to bring that knowledge to my conscious mind when shopping. One long trip back to the RAM supplier later, and the “big RAM” was returned. So now here I sit, disassembled mini lying nearby, awaiting the FedEx truck from OWC with my two 1GB SO-DIMM modules somewhere onboard. I know, I should’ve taken this route the first time, but I really like shopping locally when possible (Oregon doesn’t have sales tax, which helps).

Lessons learned, for all you future do-it-yourselfers: Small computers take SO-DIMMs, not DIMMs. Even if you know this, remember it when shopping! Lesson number two, confirm you have the right parts before you start your project, not after! Lesson three, remember lessons one and two! Thankfully, my mistakes haven’t cost me anything other than some time and a day with a dead mini…

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